Sales tax vote nears

WORTHINGTON -- It may be a close vote on Nov. 4, when residents will decide whether to allow the collection of a half-percent local sales tax to fund the construction of a community center complex and renovation of Memorial Auditorium.

WORTHINGTON -- It may be a close vote on Nov. 4, when residents will decide whether to allow the collection of a half-percent local sales tax to fund the construction of a community center complex and renovation of Memorial Auditorium.

Ken Moser, the de facto leader of the campaign to pass the referendum, "Your Community, Your Future, Your Vote," admits there may be reservations in the community.

"Especially with the economy as it is right now, unless a resident sees a need for themselves -- a daughter or a son who they want to hold an event for -- those folks may be more inclined to vote for it," he said. He fears those who don't have as many reasons to use the event center will likely vote no.

Still, he says, there are many benefits to the tax. The proposed 18,125-square-foot community center complex would feature a pre-function area, two to five meeting rooms and a wedding park for pictures.

"It gives a more progressive, professional look to the community, which we think then will garner business." said Moser, who also heads the community center complex board. "Our committee is looking at this as an opportunity to bring more folks to town. Right now we don't have a facility where, under one roof, 400 people can assemble ... People would say 'Hey, Worthington has this facility, let's have our event there.' There's economic growth that can come from that."


Passage would also renovate Memorial Auditorium, adding on 4,400 square feet of lobby and reception area and installing air conditioning. It would fund new restrooms, a new ticket booth and a drop-off drive-through area.

Bernice Camery, a member of the Memorial Auditorium board, has been touting the advantages of the project.

"I can really see the importance of the expanded room, When you think of the lobby, as limited in space as it is now, it gets very congested," she said, adding the importance of having a drop-off area. "It's very difficult for a lot of people who can't walk very far. That would be a big plus.

"We need to have people come support it so we can keep Memorial Auditorium alive. I'm up on my soapbox every opportunity I can get," she added with a laugh.

If the referendum passes, the tax would take effect in April 2009. In Worthington, the sales tax on taxable items would increase from 6.5 percent to 7 percent. Items not currently taxed, like groceries, medical prescriptions and clothing, would not be taxed under the local option sales tax.

The tax would terminate 10 years after the date of initial imposition of the tax or when the city council determines that the amount of revenue received to pay for the projects equals or exceeds $6 million, a little more than the total estimated cost for both projects.

Through this system, visitors and non-residents who shop in Worthington would also help pay for the facilities. Based on sales tax projections and Minnesota Department of Revenue statistics, it is estimated that 40 percent of the local sales tax collected in Worthington would be from non-residents.

"What it's going to cost each of us in a year's time is so minimal," Camery said. "When you compare the amount of tax we are paying here in Worthington and compared to cities our size or smaller, they're paying more tax than we are. I think it's a bargain."


The amount of local sales tax that a Worthington household would pay during one year would depend on individual spending patterns. Using the most recent sales tax data available from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, it's possible to estimate annual local sales tax payments for different households at various levels of adjusted gross income levels.

Other cities in Minnesota currently have a local sales tax, including Mankato, Rochester, Winona, Albert Lea, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Two Harbors, Duluth and St. Cloud.

Many in the community, meanwhile, are still clamoring for a senior center -- which cannot be funded through the half-percent local sales tax. However, with the successful passing of the local sales tax, the challenge of funding these three projects becomes easier, proponents say. The city can commit to funding the senior facility through its normal funding options knowing the Memorial Auditorium improvements and the community center complex are funded through the local sales tax.

If the tax is approved, construction and renovation would start in the summer of 2009. If the tax is not approved, city council would most likely issue bonds, which would be repaid by city tax payers.

"We're looking at it as a means to fund these two projects without 100 percent falling back on the taxpayers," Moser said.

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